February 6, 2016


Jeb vs. John vs. Chris (Matthew Walther, February 5, 2016, Free Beacon)

Jeb spoke in the banquet room of a resort in Laconia on Wednesday night. You know all the jokes by now. He is "low energy," hopelessly WASP-y, a self-described "joyful tortoise" who is incapable of talking himself up and whose impeccable manners make him reluctant to use even the mildest of four-letter words. He is a wonk so wonky that after listening to him discuss education reform--his pet issue--even the most earnest reform conservative will want to don a tricorn and fire up old Sarah Palin CPAC clips on YouTube.

All of this was in evidence on Wednesday. The event itself was impeccably produced, beginning and ending on schedule. Jeb's young campaign volunteers, with their sweaters and chinos and nonchalant side-parts, looked like they belonged in an unproduced Whit Stillman screenplay. It was the only town hall I attended at which there was free food for attendees and press. Jeb used the word "disruptive" the way Elon Musk does. He talked about policy and "mechanisms" for understanding and the "architecture" of something I didn't catch. When he proposed that we "launch a moonshot" to cure Alzheimer's and suggested we need to "discover the brain," I could have sworn I was attending a TED talk. [...]

None of this is to say that Jeb is not, in his way, an attractive candidate and, more important, a very kind and decent man. A single exchange from Wednesday illustrates this fact better than any Bloomberg poll or snappy debate performance ever could. After the last question I walked over to the front of the room where he was posing for selfies and autographing yard signs and copies of the policy book. A kid who had asked him earlier about his plan for addressing college debt came to follow up, and he and Jeb talked about the pitfalls of majoring in history. Then there was just Danny.

Danny was wearing a dark blue sweater with holes in it. He smelled terribly. When I got close to him I noticed that there was blood on his hands and that his fingernails were black. I do not think it would be letting my prejudices get the best of me if I were to venture a guess that he was severely mentally ill and a drug addict.

Danny disgusted me. I was afraid of him. As I stood there I found myself tensing up, getting ready for a tackle or a run, wondering whether he was going to Do Something Crazy--start screaming or pull out a gun.

Danny has a pet theory about climate change. He thinks an alien race living on the sun is building a subterranean civilization to supplant humankind. (I learned more about this theory when I talked to him outside the banquet room.) Jeb listened to Danny without flinching or backing away--or simply walking off with his security detail. After a while someone in a pinstriped jacket said something about an interview they had to get to, but Jeb showed no sign of having heard him.

"All life comes from the sun," Danny said.

"No one doubts that," Jeb said.

"So you're open minded?" Danny asked, with a look of addled eagerness in his face that hurts me to think about.

"I love to learn."

Danny, who noted that he was originally from Colorado, started talking about books he had read that he could share with Jeb, who said that while he couldn't commit to reading any books right now, he was happy to look at an article or two. "Send me the info," he said. Then he was off to his next event.

Jeb is the only candidate people like better as they get to know him.

Posted by at February 6, 2016 7:18 AM